Today, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced the Video Visitation and Inmate Calling in Prisons Act of 2017, which would clarify the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to cap intrastate inmate calling rates. The bill requires the agency to establish rules governing the procurement and use of video visitation and inmate calling services to make sure rates are “reasonable, fair and just”.
Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his resignation from the agency effective January 20, 2017. In his three years at the FCC, Tom Wheeler pushed to transform every aspect of the FCC’s jurisdiction to serve the public and the public interest.
Recently, investigative journalists at the Intercept revealed that Securus, a nationwide provider of phone and video services to jails and prisons, suffered a massive security breach when someone obtained, and then leaked, records of more than 70 million phone calls by prisoners across the country, along with links to downloadable recordings of those calls. Among these calls were records of “at least 14,000 recorded conversations between inmates and attorneys.” In fact, the Intercept claims that Securus has amassed a huge database of federally protected consumer propriety network information (CPNI, or “metadata” containing the number you call, at what time and for how long) and has been storing this data for years. The Intercept also reports that Securus may be selling access to this data to law enforcement investigators.
Today, the Federal Communications Commission issued an Order limiting the inmate calling service rates that can be charged for calls to and from prisons and jails in the United States. The Order finds the monopoly rates charged by providers “unjust and unreasonable.” As those incarcerated generally must call collect, the high cost of these monopoly charges generally fall on the families of the incarcerated. The FCC Order establishes a cap on the costs that telephone providers can charge, enabling families of the incarcerated to remain in contact with their loved ones -- a factor numerous studies have shown helps prevent recidivism.
Today, Public Knowledge joins civil rights, media justice and labor groups calling for further action on unfair prison phone rates. Our statement follows the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to approve a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to comprehensively reform interstate and intrastate inmate calling services for prisons and detention facilities.